10 drinks to order in Spain

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Spanish bar culture spilling into the plaza San Martin in Leon

Spaniards love to spend time in bars and it is one of my most favorite parts of Spanish culture. Spain supposedly has the highest number of bars to resident ratios in the world, something that is not at all hard to believe if you’ve spent any time in basically any Spanish city.

One of my favorite things about Spanish bar culture is that it’s inclusive. What do I mean by this? If you don’t like wine, that’s fine! If you’re not a big drinker, no problem! Don’t drink alcohol at all, no worries! Bars are socially gathering places and the focus is on conversation, being with friends and family, or just enjoying yourself.

Bars in Spain range from trendy and hipster to abuelito bars where older men stand around talk to each other for hours on end; they range from having beautiful decor and incredibly stylish people to places where the expectation is that you throw your napkin, toothpick, olive pit, etc., on the bar floor. While I am especially partial to the abuelito bar, the following drinks are widely available across just about any bar in Spain.

Here are 10 drinks you can order in just about any bar in Spain:

Tinto de Verano  

Tinto de Verano is what Spaniards order instead of Sangria. It’s red wine, called vino tinto, that has soda water, lemon flavor, or some combination of both added. It’s delicious and refreshing and very common to order during the summer months when you’re sitting on a terrace.

Vermouth

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Vermouth and olives aperitivo

I love a vermouth as an aperitivo before lunch. It’s usually served with a few ice cubes and maybe a bit of soda water. Vermouth has become quite trendy recently, though it’s been a drink of choice for many Spaniards for years. Over the holidays, I ordered a vermouth in a bar that must have had hundreds of options and I had no idea what specific type I wanted. If you order a “vermouth del grifo” or the vermouth that’s on tap, you can usually avoid this.

Gin Tonic 

Despite being a very British drink, Gin and tonics, know as Gin Tonics (no “and”, so it’s “gin tonic” in Spanish not “gin y tonic” like a literal translation would be) have become extremly popular in Spain over the past decade. Trendy bars that specialize in gin tonics have sprung up in cities like Madrid. You will be asked what type of gin you want and possibly what type of tonic water as well so be prepared.

Caña (beer)

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Cañas and a tapa of salmorejo at Bar Madrid in León

Now, onto beer. Spain is not generally known for beer, especially not the way it’s renown for its wine, though there is a growing craft brewery scene.

That said, beer is one of the most popular things to order in a bar and on a hot summer day when you feel like you might just melt into the pavement, nothing is better than a nice caña, or smallish glass of on-tap beer.

In most of Spain, you order a beer by asking for a caña. If you ask for a cerveza, everyone will understand and you’ll get your point across. When you order a caña, you’re ordering a smallish glass of on-tap beer, as seen above in the photo. The shape and size of cañas varries from bar to bar.

Some bars have several choices of beers and you might be able to choose a caña de 1905 or another specialty beer, but usually when you order a caña, you’ll get a standard light tasting beer. Depending on the city and size of the beer, a caña will run between about 1 and 3 euros.

Corto

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Cortos are not widely available across most of Spain, but I love them so much I had to include then. A corto is just a small caña — yes, an even smaller small glass of beer — or like the name implies, a short one.

In the photo above, the corto is the short caña sort of hidden by the glasses of white wine. Like cañas, cortos come in varrying sizes but they are always significanly smaller in quantity than the caña from any specific bar. Cortos are common in the city of León and other parts of Castilla.

What is the point of a corto and why is it only available some places? Cortos are popular in León, a city in the north of Spain, that has a very strong tapas culture. It is one of the only cities in Spain, along with Granada and Logrono, and perhaps a few other, where you get a nice tapa for free with any drink you order all across the city.

Cortos allow people to order a beer without drinking as much as a caña. If you’re going to be out for hours with friends having drinks and eating the tapas that come with them, you need to pace yourself or you will be full fast. Having a corto allows you to have more drinks and tapas. Maybe at the end of the evening, you will have consumed the same quantity of beer as you would have drinking cañas, but if you order cortos, you’ll have more individual drinks, meaning more tapas. This also gives you the chance to hop from bar to bar more easily.

Clara 

Another type of beer drink. Yes, Spaniards actually really like beer.

A clara is a caña mixed with either soda water or lemon soda, like lemon fanta or kas. Basically, it’s a lighter and sweeter beer.

Ordering a clara depends on cities. For instance, in many parts of the North of Spain, you say that you’d like a clara con limon or a clara con casera (soda water) while in Madrid you say that you’ll have a caña con limon instead of saying a clara. These are regional semantic differences and anyone should be able to understand you no matter how you order.

Ribera del Duero o Rioja (red wine)

Ribera del Duero and Rioja are Spain’s classic red wines, or vino tintos. The offerings and variety of Spanish red wines go way beyond these two categories, but these are the best known reds across Spain and are popular and widely available.

To order wine in Spain, you don’t pick a specific winery, you order by the region. For instance, you can go into a bar and ask for a Ribera del Duero and they’ll give you a Ribera. You don’t need to specify which specific Ribera from which winery, unless you want to. Basically, they will give you a “house wine” from the region you order, except for it’s not really a house wine in that it’s of excellent quality and not made by the house.

Many bars post specific wines on their menus on the wall, so if you can always ask for a specific wine. Usually, the wines that you need to ask for specifically by name are nicer and more expensive, but keep in mind that a very nice glass of wine will maybe run you 3.50 euros, so it’s all very affordable.

Here’s a good example — when at a bar, my dad frequently will ask for a Ramon Bilbao which is an excellent Rioja. You have to ask for it by name and it’s usually a euro maybe 1.50 more than the Rioja you’ll get if you don’t specify. On the other hand, when I’m in the mood for a  Rioja, I just ask for a Rioja. I pay maybe a euro less and my wine might not be quite as good, but it’s still excellent. My dad has paid a bit more, but not by much. Both are good options!

Verdejo o Albarino (white wine)

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Vedejos, albarinos, and a lone cana

Verdejo and Albarino are two well known Spanish white wines that you should be able to order in many bars. While Spain has traditionally been better known for reds, it produces excellent white wines that are receiving more and more attention.

Like with red wine, in Spain, you order your wine by the region, so when you order by asking for either a Verdejo or Albarino, you don’t know exactly which winery or brand of wine you’ll be getting.

You can always skim the posted list of specific Verdejos or Albarinos and ask for a specific type of either.

One of the best Spanish Albarinos is called Mar de Frades. It is from the region of Galicia. It might not be available in all bars because it is an exceptionally good wine. It could run about 3.50 euro for a class as compared to 1.75 or 2 euros for a not as fancy albarino.

Mosto

A Mosto is a very classic Spanish bar drink that is just grape juice. It usually comes in a glass bottle, can be either light or dark depending on the type of grapes it’s made from, and frequently is porn into a glass with ice cubs and maybe a maraschino cherry.  It is a very acceptable adult drink to order if you don’t want alcohol.

Coca-cola or Fanta/Schweps/Kas de limon/naranja 

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A classic summer drink available at any bar across Spain

Any bar in Spain will serve coca-cola. They’re usually give you a tall glass with ice cubes and maybe a lemon slice along with a glass bottle of coca-cola. There is something delicious and refreshing about sitting on a terrace in the summer drinking a coca-cola that came in a glass bottle out of a glass with ice cubes. Seriously. It just tastes better. This is an easy option for anyone in any bar in Spain.

For those who want more soda options as non-alcoholic drinks or for kids, almost any bar will have Fanta, Kas, or Schweps in lemon and orange. When we were little, my sister and I were obsessed with the Fanta de Naranja in Spain. I swear, the recipe back then, more orangey and less soda-like. It’s common for bars to only carry one or two of these brands and ask if you mind a substitution. For example, if you order a Fanta de limon and the bar has Kas, they’ll ask you if a Kas de limon is okay.

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Spaniards doing what they do best — enjoying good company , good drinks, and wonderful bar culture!

These are a few very straightforward and basic drinks you can order in any Spain throughout Spain. Of course, the possibilities for drink orders are endless and I would encourage anyone to be adventurous and try new drinks, especially new wines. You really can’t go wrong if you just pick a new wine in every bar. With these orders, you should be able to go into any bar and feel like you have a few different options to order and enjoy a Spanish bar experience.

 

 

Why I used a Fee Model, or What is a Travel Fiduciary

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When I decided to start Las Tres Marias, I knew I wanted to use consulting fees and not base my business on commission earnings. A fee-based model benefits clients and supports the type and quality of work I want to produce.

There are two significant benefits to clients from this business model —

  1. The fee model supports detailed and time-consuming research for non-commission producing activities;
  2. The fee model allows for total transparency and ensures no conflicts of interest

Because of this, I like to call myself a travel fiduciary.

What does this this mean? And how does the fee model benefit clients as outlined above? To explain this, I think it’s helpful to keep in mind the travel agent model.

Traditional Travel Agents

Traditionally, travel agents earned commissions from the provider when they booked for clients. This used to come from mostly from fees that airlines would pay travel agents when they booked flights for their clients. It may be hard to remember, but there was a time before the internet when the only way to book a flight was to through a travel agency. Crazy, I know!

The internet changed this completely. Even if you hire a travel agent to research or book your flight,  the ability of any consumer to see flight prices and comparisons across airlines and dates easily and quickly changes everything.

Travel Agent Model Today

There are many different ways travel agents today earn money through commissions and it varies widely depending on the target audience, like corporate or leisure travel, for example. Agents may still make a booking commission from certain providers, like some hotels or cruises. Many travel agents roll their own commissions into a travel package. They may mark up the final package a certain percentage, maybe 15-20%, or have different percentage mark ups for different booking services, like hotels, rental cars, or guided tours. Their time is logically driven by what produces commissions. If they didn’t focus on commission-producing items, they wouldn’t be able to say in business.

Las Tres Marias Travel Fiduciary Model

I want to spend the majority of my time creating products of value for clients in the form of highly individualized and meticulously researched and planned trips to Spain.

I want to be able to do extensive research based on clients’ interests and focus on items that don’t produce commissions, like restaurant research, creating self-guided driving tours, and supporting logistical details like getting from point A to point B efficiently throughout clients’ trips.

I also value transparency highly and wanted to make sure that clients had all the information available, not just a price for an opaque final package. This means being transparent  about my fees and the value of every service I recommend and we discuss.

The consulting fees that Las Tres Marias uses allow me to spend time on the detailed and time intensive research I mentioned above. If a client is interested in a self-guided walking tour of Barcelona with a focus on vintage stores and local bars, for example, I can spend the time necessary to produce this. It does not matter to me that there is no ability to earn a commission from this sort of activity because  my fees are entirely independent of clients’ activities.

This also means that it is not in my best interest to recommend services or activities that produce higher commission. It’s all the same to me because my fees are independent of a client’s itinerary. What matters to me is creating an incredibly detailed, thoroughly researched trip plan and itinerary that is customized to your interests needs.

Learn more about what to expect when you plan a Spain trip with Las Tres Marias, our Trip Planning Services, and our trip planning fees

 

5 Must Sees in Spain

Spain’s Amazing Diversity

Spain is a very diverse country in terms of basically everything — language, culture, geography, music, and food — and it can be hard to know what to see.

There are so many things to see in Spain from historic sites, to amazing landscapes, to food, culture, and an amazing lifestyle, it’s hard to even know where to begin!

Spain has amazing beaches on every coast — North, South, and East (the West coast is beautiful too, but that’s Portugal)– on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and two sets of fantastic islands — the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean composed of the famous Ibiza and Mallorca and lesser know but stunning Menorca and Formentera, and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the Western Coast of the African continent.

The southern region of Andalucia has the rich history of Al-Andalus with its mix of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures, and the cities of Cordoba, Granada, and Sevilla with their Moorish architecture — the stunning Alhambra (the most visited site in Europe), the unique mosque in Cordoba, the Alcazar in Sevilla. The southern Atlantic coast of Cadiz is amazing and filled with white-washed, hilltop villages like Vejer de la Frontera, Caños de Meca, and Jerez de la Frontera, to name a few.

The city of Barcelona is known for is European vibe and Gaudi’s unique, colorful, and quirky architecture as well as for leading a gastronomic revolution in Spain.

The North coast and the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and the Basque Country, have spectacular, world-reknown seafood, and dramatic coasts, amazing surfing,  and lush green countryside.

Madrid has a deep Spanish soul is filled with amazing neighborhoods, each with their own flavor, and a pulsating energy that is like no other city. Madrid has three of the top art galleries in Europe — The Prado, The Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza — a stately park in the Retiro, and old, romantic and windy streets filled with cafes and bars.

5 Spain Must Sees

I picked five must-sees and dos for a first time visitor to Spain. My picks shine a light on Spain’s amazing diversity. I would definitely recommend a trip that stops at all of these spots for a first-time visitor to Spain who wants to see and experience different parts of the country.

  1. A visit to the unique and romantic city of Granada and the awe-inspiring Alhambra;
  2. Drinks and tapas along Calle Cava Baja in Madrid any night and during Sunday’s Rastro market to get a sample of la vida madrileña;
  3. A dip in the ocean at La Concha beach in San Sebastian followed by pintxos and wine in San Sebastian’s legendary casco viejo, or old town center;
  4. A visit to the lovely city of Logrono in the heart of La Rioja wine country and a tour and wine tastings in surrounding vineyards that produce some of the best wine in Spain;
  5. See Spain’s most beautiful Cathedral, immerse yourself in the spirit of the Camino de Santiago, and enjoy tapas in the city with the most bars per resident in Leon

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(Photo by David Jiménez Llanes –https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31695037)

Of course, these are just some of the must-sees and dos in Spain. Visitors with particular interests, like gastronomy, history, or hiking, or those who are planning a beach vacation, will have different priorities and must-sees.

How to order coffee in Spain

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Ordering coffee in Spain can seem like a bit of a challenge. But if you know a few key phrases and names for different sorts of coffee, you’ll do just fine.

Spaniards in general are less picky about the time of day for their coffee than Italians. I’ve read that after breakfast, Italians never order cappuccinos and will think you are weird and foreign if you do so.  I’m pretty sure that the last time I was in Rome, I order a mid-afternoon cappuccino. Oh well.

Anyways, back to Spanish coffee.

Most Common Coffee Orders in Spain

There are many different ways to order coffee in Spain, but three basic, common coffee orders. There are many variations of these basics, but these three basic orders should get you everything you need.

Café con lechecoffee with a substantial amount of milk, usually half to a third milk

Café solo — only coffee, like an espresso

Café cortadocoffee with a little bit of frothy milk

Café cortados and café solos are served in small, espresso-style cups while a café con leche is usually a bit bigger and, in many bars, is served in a glass. You won’t find a big cup of coffee unless you go to an American style coffee chain, like Starbucks, which I would definitely avoid.

Spanish coffee is quite strong and sometimes a bit bitter. Spaniards are not known for their coffee the way the Italians are, but coffee drinking is still a ritual and a regular part of life. Almost any bar will be able to make you a coffee. Bakeries tend to have good coffee as they are used to customers having a morning coffee with their pastry.

So what type of coffee should you order when? The general rule is that a café solo or café cortado is usually for after a meal. Café con leche is the common breakfast coffee or a common late afternoon get together drink.

While Spaniards are generally more flexible in the coffee area than their Mediterranean counterparts, they do have a one guideline — they never order a café con leche after meal. It’s too heavy with all the milk and isn’t good for digestion, or that’s the belief. After a meal, Spaniards typically have either a cafe solo or a café cortado.

If you want a café con leche after a meal, go right ahead and order one! Ignore any strange stares you might get.

One of my favorite things to do in Spain is enjoy a morning café con leche at a local bar while I people watch. Since any type of coffee will run you between 1 and 2 euros, it’s a habit I can easily afford. No one will ever try to run you out of a bar for sitting too long, even after you finish your coffee, so sit back, or stand at the bar, and enjoy!

 

 

 

My Camino experience

The Camino de Santiago

If you’re interested in traveling to Spain and have done some research or follow travel writing, you’re probably heard about the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a medieval pilgrimage route, actually more accurately routes since there is more than one, that lead to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. Santiago has tremendous religious significance and is believed to be the burial place of Santiago, or St. James.

I wrote a general overview of the what exactly the Camino is here.

My Camino Experience in 2007

My father, sister, and I biked the Camino de Santiago in the summer of 2007. We chose the Camino Frances that goes across the North of Spain, from East to West. We started in Roncesvalles, the first town in Spain next to the Spain-France border, and we biked all the way to Santiago. It took us two weeks and we timed our camino so that we entered Santiago on July 26, el día de Santiago, or the day of St. James.

On our way to Santiago, we passed through the major Camino cities — Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, and León. We were in Pamplona for a few hours the morning of an encierro, or a running with the  bulls, during their yearly fiestas. We saw the grape vines in the vineyards of La Rioja, the dueling cathedrals in Burgos and León, biked through the wide open plains of the Meseta and up the steepest mountain pass on our way to O Ceibreiro in Galicia.

We had certain advantages that come from knowing Spain inside and out and from having a home base in the city of  León. In terms of culture, food, and language, we were all set. But, traveling the camino is quite different from traveling through Spain, or even from knowing the country well.

We had to do a lot of research and think about certain logistics, like how to make sure you time yourself so that you’re in a town for the night, hopefully the town you plan to sleep in, but at least a town.

Camino Logistics

We brought our bikes over from the US. We considered buying bikes in Spain to avoid transporting them and I am so glad we did not do this. I would definitely recommend bringing your bike and any equipment you might need with you. We were all able to ride our bikes beforehand, to “train” on them.  It’s not about speed or building up to riding a certain amount, although you will be riding a lot if you do the camino by bike or walking a lot if you walk it, and getting yourself used to that sort of physical experience is a good idea.

If you are walking, make sure you break in your hiking boots very well before starting the camino. You should also bring an additional pair of walking shoes, like old sneakers that you can wear if you need a break from your boots.

The most important thing is to get accustomed to your bike, to ride a good amount, to figure out the best fit, and to know how the bike works. If you’re carrying your belongings, it’s important to practice with weight on your bike. I would put water bottles in my panniers and go out on rides to get used to what my bike would feel like. Trust me, riding a bike that is weighed down, even if you pack lightly, takes some getting used to.

We each asked biked shops to break down our bikes and put them in a large, sturdy cardboard box. It cost us each around $80 to check these boxes. I would recommend checking this price again as I’m sure it’s gone up since 2007. Bike shops should be familiar with the idea of breaking down a bike to travel with. People who travel with bikes frequently either to compete or for travel have hard, plastic bike cases. I do not think this is at all necessary. All three bikes made the trip safely and without problems.

We carried all of our clothes and everything we needed on our bikes in paniers. In addition to clothes, we each had limited toiletries, a sleeping pad, and a fleece sleeping bag. We did not need the sleeping pad at all and I’m not sure why we each carried one. The fleece sleeping bag came in handy during the second half of the trip when the weather was much colder.

In terms of clothes, we each packed two pairs of padded bike shorts, a few moisture-wicking tees, a rain jacket, undergarments, socks, and one or two casual outfits. I think I brought a dress in case we ever went out to a nicer dinner or something like, which was was completely unnecessary. You will spend most of your time actually doing the camino, biking or walking. When you stop in towns to have a coffee or a meal, everyone will understand that you’re a peregrino, or a pilgrim, and will expect you to be dressed as such. That means you don’t need to feel badly about sitting down to eat with hiking boots on or in bike shorts. If you’re planning to go to a very fancy restaurant during your camino trek, then it makes sense to bring a nicer outfit. Otherwise, one casual non-athletic clothes outfit is fine.

Reflections on the Camino  — What I would do the same and differently

For the most part, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I loved biking the camino and I’m glad that was our decision. I’m glad we started in Roncesvalles and traveled all the way across Spain, East to West, to Santiago. We were able to see so much and it was an incredible experience.

We timed things well and arrived in Santiago on July 26th, the day we had planned to arrive. Even though it was quite hot at the beginning as we traveled through La Rioja and Castilla y León and it was colder at the end in the mountains of Galicia, I think it was a great time of year to do the camino and I wouldn’t change that. If I were to do the camino again, I might choose early fall to enjoy a different season.

I think we had a realistic idea of how much we could do every day and it worked out well. On our longest day, we did 80 kilometers. The terrain was very flat and relatively easy. In the mountains, we did less each day. There are plenty of books that break down different typical stages and how much you might be able to do in a day during different parts of the camino. I think it is important to be realistic and to plan conservatively. Make sure you build in plenty of time every day for rest. After lunch around 2:00 or 3:00, you’re probably not going to want to do much more walking or biking.

One thing I wish we had done differently and that I would advise everyone to do is to pack for colder weather, no matter the time of year. Even though we did the Camino in July which most people associate with hot weather in Spain, the second half of our trek was quite cold. From where we started in Roncesvalles to León, when we were on the Spanish Meseta, or the central plain, the terrain was mostly flat and open and it was very hot. We need shorts, tee-shirts, good sunglasses and hats,  and lots of sunblock.

Once we passed León and left the Meseta, we were in the mountainous region of Galicia and the weather was much cooler. I remember biking down from the mountains into Villafranca del Bierzo and not being able to feel my hands, and wishing that I had long pants instead of only bike shorts and a pair of gloves.

No matter how well you plan, there will always be something unexpected. Be prepared to improvise! If you need to buy a warmer layer, there are plenty of cities and stores in which to do so. If you have bad blisters, many doctors in cities along the camino are used to seeing peregrinos for all sorts of blister and walking and biking related issues.

Keep a flexible mindset and enjoy! Whatever happens, it will be an incredible experience!

 

 

 

El Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago?

If you’ve been doing research on travel to Spain or just reading about Spain in general, you might have heard of the Camino de Santiago and wondered, what’s that? Santiago is St. James and a camino is a path or a walkway, so translated, el Camino de Santiago means the way of St. James or the path of St. James.

St. James is believed to be burried in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, a city in the northwestern corner of Spain, in the region of Galicia. Inside the cathedral, one column has the imprint of a hand that, legend has is, was originally made by St. James. Throughout the middle ages, people traveled from all across Europe and Northern Africa to Santiago de Compostela to the burial site of St. James, making the pilgrimage to Compostela  one of the most important Christian piligrimages of the middle ages, along with the pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem.

Wealthy pilgrims stayed in what were essentially hotels for those making pilgrimages.  The Hostal San Marcos in Leon is a good example of one of these buildings. Today it is a Parador, one of several historic buildings all over Spain  that have been converted into luxury hotels and run through a private-public partnership as a way to preserve and use these beautiful and historic buildings.

Non-wealthy pilgrims would camp on the side of the road. They suffered greatly during these pilgrimages, from hunger and from sickness, but only wealth pilgrims were assured food and the medical care. Most people who make the journey to Santiago were not wealthy. That so many made this arduous journey is a testament to the importance of Santiago de Compostela.

Why do people do the Camino today? Is it only for religious people? 

Over the past three or so decades, many people, mostly from Spain and other European countries, rediscovered the Camino and started walking or biking different routes to get to Santiago. People who were outdoor enthusiasts and liked hiking or biking realized it was a great way to do something they loved while also seeing beautiful countryside, cities and towns that one might otherwise not see.  Within the past decade or so, the Camino’s popularity has truly exploded, with many North Americans joining in.

There are many reasons why people today do the Camino and many people, I would say the vast majority, do not do it for religious reasons.  In the middle ages, people endured difficult, uncomfortable pilgrimages for religious reasons. Today, there are so many ways to do the Camino, but even the most austere way is much more comfortable, not to mention safer and more hygenic, than anything medeival pilgrims would have encountered.

There really is something special and unique about doing the Camino. My dad, sister, and I biked the Camino in 2007 and even though we all know Spain incredibly well (two of us are Spanish nationals), biking the Camino was in many ways an indescribable experience that let showed us remote roads, villages, tiny towns of only a few abuelitos. We got to know fellow pilgrims, chat with people from all over Europe, and see beautiful countryside by bike.

There is not one only Camino — Different Camino routes

There is more than one Camino de Santiago; in fact there are many! Pilgrims traveled from all over Europe and Northern Africa to Santiago and the multiple Caminos reflect this.

There is the classic Camino Frances, or French Way, that crosses Spain from East to West. This is the most popular route. Many people start this route at Roncesvalles, which is the first town on the Camino del Norte in Spain, just next to the French border. Some people start just over the border in France.

There is also the Ruta del Norte that goes along the northern coast of Spain. This route is spectacularly beautiful and allows walkers to enjoy the coast, maybe spend afternoons discovering different beaches.

The Ruta de la Plata comes up from the south, from Sevilla specifically.  The Ruta Portugues starts in Lisbon and makes it way up through Portugal and to Santiago de Compostela.

People start the Camino at points all over Europe. When we did the Camino, we met a family from Denmark who were also biking the Camino. The youngest of the three children was so little that she didn’t have her own bike; she was rode a trailer attached to the back of her dad’s bike. They started biking in Denmark and traveled all the way to Santiago.

Trip basics

There are a number of decisions to make regarding your Camino trip. There are three big questions to decided right away. The rest of your planning will be based around your decisions on the following —

  1. Method — walk or bike;
  2. Route — which Camino will you do;
  3. Starting point — will you do the entire Camino route, or will you do a smaller piece.

The most basic question you need to answer is how you are going to transport yourself along the Camino. Are you going to walk or bike?

You need to decide which Camino route you will do and where you will start. For instance, if you’re doing the Camino Frances, are you going to do the entire route in Spain starting in Roncesvalles or are you going to start somewhere else along the way?

Once you’ve made these three decisions, you can move onto additional logistics. You will need to decide what type of accommodation you want. Are you going to stay in the pilgrim hostels, called albergues, or do you want to stay in hotels? How long are you planning to walk or bike each day? This is important in terms of the time you need to allot to get from one town to the next.  Are you going to carry all of your belongings or is someone going to drive a support car? Are you going to take any rest days? If so, where? What are the sites you most want to see? Are they any restaurants you want to eat in along the way?

Planning for the Camino

This is a general overview. I write more about planning for the Camino here.

It is important to research thoroughly and plan for your Camino adventure. I would say it’s actually more important than for the average trip because you need to time your trip so that you’re able to spend each night in a pre-planned city or town, unless you’re bringing camping equipment and are planning to camp wherever you can (I would not recommend this approach).

Weather is an important consideration. We did the Camino in early to mid June, a time that most everyone associates with hot weather in Spain. The first half or so of our trip, from Roncesvalles through León, was quite hot, but once we past León and were off the Meseta, or the central plain of Spain, and in the mountains of Galicia, the weather was much colder. In fact, we were freezing and completely unprepared clothing-wise.

Packing light is very important for the Camino as you’re likely carrying all of your belongings, but making sure you have the adequate clothing is important. No matter the time of year, you should be prepared for rain and have changes in temperature. A light weigh rain jacket, moisture-wicking layers including a least one top layer that is a bit warmer, and gloves are must pack items. For those walking, sturdy high quality and well fitted hiking boots are an absolute must as well as as second pair of lighter, yet still comfortable walking shoes like sneakers.

In thinking about where to start the Camino and which route to travel, you should consider if you want to build a bigger Spain trip around your Camino adventure and what parts of Spain you like to see. Is it beaches on the north coast, Castilian cities, or do you want to jet off to another part of Spain after finishing the camino.

I am happy to give advice or help you plan your Camino adventure!

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Tips for Driving in Spain

Driving in Spain, or any foreign country really, may seem a bit daunting, but with the right tips and preparation, driving in Spain is a great way to see certain parts of the country.

In general, driving is a great way to move around specific and contained regions of Spain. For instance, if you want to spend time in La Rioja visiting vineyards, to see the north coast in the Basque country,  or to weave your way through olive groves and white-washed villages in the south, driving is a fabulous way to do this.

You have the freedom and flexibility to move at your own pace. You can stop when you want to and see what you want to see. If you discover an unexpected town and want to you change your itinerary to spend more time there, you’re not constrained by bus and train schedules.

Driving is really the only way to see smaller towns and more rural parts of the country, both inland and on the coasts. Local buses run fairly extensive routes in most places and it is possible to use these buses to get to some off-the-beaten path places. Buses simply do not go many places that you might want to see and, without renting a car, taking a taxi would be the only option.

While Spaniards tend to drive fast on highways, they are predictable drivers and follow traffic rules well. The highways are quite modern and well marked.  Driving in cities (I don’t recommend driving in big cities) is similarly predictable.

Here are my dos and don’ts for driving in Spain —

Dos

Do make sure you are always in the right-hand lane when driving on the highway, unless you are passing another vehicle. This goes for divided highways with multiple lanes. You should never just drive along in the left-hand lane.

Do make sure to always respect the speed limit. This means making sure you’re not going much under the speed limit too.

Do make sure to pay extra close attention to the speed limit if you are on a smaller road that goes through small towns. In many areas, it is common to have the speed limit drop from above 100 kilometers per hour to 90 to 60 to 40 very quickly while you approach a small town. Sometimes these “towns” might be a few houses on either side of the road. Make sure you slow down adequately and respect these limits. They tend to be strictly enforced.

Do make sure you always, always stop for pedestrians in a cross walk. Cars always stop at the edge of the crosswalk, so it sometimes looks they they’re not stopping, but they always do and pedestrians count on this.

Do make sure you always signal. This goes for city and highway driving.

Do make sure that you always check to see if anyone is coming up behind you before passing a car on a divided highways. Cars can come up very quickly and unexpectedly at times, so they is very important.

Do be honest about your ability to drive a stick shift. If you’re not an experienced stick shift driver, driving in a different country on unfamiliar roads is not the best way to practice. It’s better to book ahead and request an automatic transmission.

Do make sure you have insurance coverage for your rental car, either through you credit card or through the rental car company itself.

Don’ts

Don’t drive in big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. You should absolutely avoid this.  Smaller cities are much more manageable, though you still may want to avoid the city center.

Don’t use driving as your main mode of transportation between cities in different parts of Spain, say for instance, to get from Madrid to Sevilla or Madrid to Barcelona. It’s much more efficient to take the train unless, of course, you have lots of time and you want to spend it driving long distances between cities.

Don’t turn right on red. This is not legal in Spain. You must wait for the green.

Don’t drink at all and drive, not even one small beer or glass of wine. Spain has much stricter alcohol limits when it comes to driving and they’re rigidly enforced.

 

Here are some additional tips for things to consider when renting a car abroad.

Travel Safety in Spain

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La Concha beach, right in the center of San Sebastian

Spain is an incredibly safe country. Gun violence is existent and random violent crimes are incredibly infrequent. Travel by any means, bus, train, car, or plane is all very safe.  The biggest crime concern in Spain for travelers is petty crime. In fact, this is probably the biggest safety/crime concern for Spaniards that live in big cities. For Spaniards that live in smaller cities or rural areas, my guess is the biggest “crime” concern is who left the bar without paying or what is the latest inane potentially legally questionable thing some politician has done. This may actually apply to all Spaniards.

Pickpockets in Spain, and in many European countries, are very talented at getting into your belongings — purses, pockets, bags —  and taking what they want in incredibly discreet ways.

Once while I was living in Madrid, I was on the metro when two American girls were robbed of their camera. The robber managed to grab it just before the train came to a stop and then jumped off once the doors opened and was gone. The girls didn’t see this coming and were startled and, of course, quite upset. It is common for pickpockets to target tourists and to be so discreet that you don’t notice anything is wrong until it’s too late.

Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

For women carrying purses, I recommend a shoulder bag with a zipper that should be kept zipped shut. In crowded areas like markets and the metro in big cities, it’s important to make sure the actual zipper is in the front. I’ve heard cases of pickpockets going into the back of a shoulder bag by unzipping it a tad and then stealing a wallet, phone, etc. With the zipper in front, it is very unlikely that this happens.

For evening outings or if you’re tired of carrying a shoulder bag, a cross body bag is fine under two conditions — it must have a secure closing, like a zipper, or a strap that buckles the bag closed and it should be worn so that it hangs in front. A clutch that you carry in your hand is fine for an evening at the theater or a nice dinner as long as you’re not like me, someone who puts a clutch down and then forgets about it.

For men, do not carry your wallet or a cell phone in your back pocket. It is very easy for a pickpocket to get in there without you realizing it. Front pockets are much more secure. If it’s jacket weather and you can put your wallet in an inside coat pocket, that’s even better. Just be sure that you don’t put the jacket down in a bar or a coat check and leave you wallet in the pocket accidentally.

What about those travel wallets that hang under your clothes you may ask? Personally, I find them to be a bit ridiculous and quite uncomfortable. I do not think they are at all necessary either.

Pickpockets generally look for easy targets, meaning people who are clearly tourists and distracted, maybe a bit lost, or talking loudly among themselves and tuned out from their surroundings. They are not looking to get into arguments or any sort of confrontation. I think it’s important when traveling to be in tuned with your surroundings for a number or reasons.

Of course, you’re going to get lost and distracted, or talk loudly and animatedly with your travel companions about something new and amazing you’ve seen. This is one of the best parts of traveling! Try to minimize this sort of distraction when you’re traveling on the metro or in a packed market type area.

Don’t draw attention to yourself by taking your wallet out and counting money or making it clear that you are carrying lots of cash. If you need to check to see how much money you have and if you need to make another ATM stop soon, wait until you’re in a restaurant for a meal, or step into a bar to grab a quick coffee or drink. This is a perfectly appropriate place to do this discreetly.

With these tips and being generally aware of your surroundings, you should be able to minimize any unfortunate and unpleasant sort of event of this nature.

 

Women travelers in Spain

Patio de Cordoba

Travel is one of the best things anyone can invest in. Going to new places, learning new things, meeting new people, and pushing your boundaries can only help you grow. I think everyone would be well-advised to spend more on travel and experiences than on material items.

Traveling solo in general can be exhilarating, challenging, a little scary and unsettling, and wonderful all at once. Traveling solo forces you to come face-to-face with yourself. You are alone with your thoughts, your wants, your fears, and limitations. If you don’t do something you want to or you hold yourself back, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Traveling solo as a woman can add a new dimension or concern or precaution.

I have traveled solo as a woman myself and have loved every experience. In my opinion, not having to compromise with another person, going exactly where you want to go and when, seeing what you want, eating what you want and when is the height of indulgence and enjoyment. I have enjoyed delightful meals, midday naps in parks, and people watching while I leisurely stroll.

But, I have always been a bit more cautious and aware while traveling alone.

In Budapest, where I spent a few days alone, I had a marvelous time, but never stayed out late or went to bars alone. Part of this is pure personality; I’d rather spend all day out and about and walk miles to see a city and exhaust myself and call it an early night that see less during the day and take in the night scene. In a country where I didn’t speak the language, though many Hungarians in Budapest speak English, I didn’t feel very comfortable going out to bars by myself. But again, this was not a big deal to me as my preference was to walk around all day, exhaust myself, eat delicious food, and go back to my hostel and take a hot shower and proceed to sleep ten hours.

There is a big difference between pushing your boundaries and doing something to challenge yourself, say eating a meal alone or navigating a new city on your own, and feeling fundamentally safe.

Women travelers and solo women travelers should feel safe and comfortable traveling around Spain. It is, overall, an exceedingly safe country; I always feel safer walking around in Spanish cities than I do in the US.  When I lived in Madrid, I walked home with female friends or alone at 2 or 3 in the morning, or later, and always felt safe. People tend to stay out later and urban areas generally feel much less deserted. Violent crime is much lower and gun violence is not a thing.

The biggest concern for travelers, male and female alike, is pick-pockets. One should always be  very careful with their belongings. For women carrying a bag, I recommend a zippered shoulder bag with the zipper in front. I’ve heard of women being robbed on the metro when someone unzips their back from the back without them noticing and takes out their wallet or phone.

For evening outings or if you don’t feel like schlepping a large handbag around, a cross body bag works if it has a secure closing like a zipper, or a snap with a strap over it, worn in front of you.  I recommend that when you’re on public transportation, like the metro, or in a crowded place that is rather touristy, like the Rastro market in Madrid, or Las Ramblas in Barcelona, that you keep a hand over it.

An important thing to note — pick-pocketing and these sorts of robberies are non-violent crimes in Spain, not that that makes them any less unsettling. They goal of the pickpocket is to get your valuables without you noticing and to have no confrontation.

I will add an important caveat regarding safety for female travelers — the one thing I would be cautious about are large festivals and parties, like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, La Tomatina, the tomato smushing festival in the region of Valencia, or Carnival in Cadiz. For American audiences, I think the most understandable comparison would be to very large, drunken fraternity parties.

If you’re a female solo traveler and this concerns you and you absolutely have to experience one of Spain’s famous multiple day fiestas, it’s worth nothing that I’ve never heard of harassment or assault issues in relation to the massive Gay Pride parade and celebration in Madrid. This giant several day long party happens every June in Madrid and is a good way to live the crazy Spanish fiesta.

I do not think this is the way it should be, obviously, and women should not have to seek out and heed advice to feel safe. However, until that changes, I feel that it is my responsibility to present the information I would want to know myself.

It is perfectly possible to travel solo and as a woman and enjoy Spain’s famous nightlife. Attending the large, crazy, famous festivals is not a necessity at all and, frankly, I don’t think they’re a good way to see Spain or get to know the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name: Las Tres Marias

You might be wondering why this blog and travel consultancy is called Las Tres Marias. You might think, oh, well I know there are a lot of women named Maria in Spain, so it must just be that.

You are right that there are many Marias in Spain. More on that later.

This company is named for three very specific Marias — Maria del Carmen, Maria Luisa, Maria Natividad — my mother, my aunt, and my great-grandmother, my maternal grandfather’s mother.

Maria, or Mary, was a very common name under the Franco dictatorship. Franco’s regime was very closely associated with the Catholic Church in more than just its traditional views of the family, gender roles, and general politics; church officials held high ranking positions within the regime.

According to my mother, the priest would not allow babies in her village to be baptized unless they were named Maria. And no one at the time would just forego a baptism. That was basically announcing that you wanted to be shunned by society.

There are a plethora of Marias, each one with it’s own nick-name —

Maria del Mar, or Mar;

Maria de Soledad, or Marisol;

Maria Victoria, or Marivi;

Maria Jesus;

Maria Loreto, or Loreto;

Maria Luisa, or Luisa or Marisa;

Maria del Carmen; Carmen or Mari

Maria Jose;

Maria de los Angeles;

Maria Dolores, Lola;

Maria del Pilar, or Pilar;

Maria Teresa, or Maite;

And on and on.

You get the idea, lots and lots of Marias.

Maria is not as common of a name now for baby girls although it’s far from uncommon. The princesses of Spain are named Sofia and Leonor and, while Maria names are still common, these types of non-Maria names are quite popular now too. Many people who name their daughters Maria something do so because it’s a family name or because they like the name; very few do so for religious reasons.

Back to these particular Marias.

These three Marias are especially strong, wily, and independent. They also underscore the importance of family. Women play a special role in Spanish society. Just watch any of Pedro Almodovar’s films to see how women are always the main characters, the deciders, the do-ers.

In founding Las Tres Marias Spain: Experience Spain like a local, I hope to do three things —

  1. Help you have the experience of a local in Spain;
  2. Promote Spanish companies, food producers, and products that are not sufficiently recognized for their excellence;
  3. Help people understand the unique and fascinating history of Spain, want to ask questions and learn more.

My grandmother who is one of my favorite and most admired people is named Albertina. Las Tres Marias and an Albertina wasn’t going to work for me so, for now, she’s honored through her daughters, Maria del Carmen and Maria Luisa.

And for those wondering, my mom goes by Maria in the US and Mari or Maricarmen in Spain, while my aunt goes by Luisa and I carry that Luisa on in my name as Victoria Luisa.